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Tuesday 14 August 2018

Curse of the 13 strikes again

Tadhg Furlong
Tadhg Furlong

The curse of the number 13 jersey has lived up to its superstitious reputation this year by proving extremely unlucky for three Irish players.

First Leinster's Gary Ringrose sustained a longish-term injury that thankfully for national coach Joe Schmidt he has now fully recovered from. Robbie Henshaw was next when the physical centre went down heavily after scoring a try against Italy.

Then this week man of the match against Wales Chris Farrell was also ruled out. Farrell who just appeared to innocuously twist a knee at training, must have been devastated when the resultant scan showed knee ligament injury and has forced him out just when he must have been thinking it was going to be one of the most important months of his career.

Farrell had a good enough debut in the autumn series but with Ringrose and Henshaw ahead of him, the former Grenoble man must have thought that he had done enough against Wales to cement a position against Scotland and then possibly a grand slam decider against England.

That chance has gone and with Ringrose back in harness it may be a while before he gets that opportunity again. If Henshaw and Ringrose, both young men, stay fit then it may take Farrell a while to establish himself in the starting 13 jersey, a cruel blow for the Munster centre.

The good news is that Ringrose now looks set to start against Scotland so Schmidt can breathe a slight sigh of relief.

There is also good news on the return of Lions tighthead Tadgh Furlong and second row Iain Henderson for Scotland and again Schmidt has a decision to make. Furlong's replacement against Wales, Andrew Porter, had a great game but Furlong is at the top of the list as the first player Schmidt selects.

Furlong is a world-class player so if fully fit will always start. Things are a bit more complicated in the second row. The James Ryan and Devin Toner combination was a revelation against Wales and Henderson will just not walk back in, but given that Schmidt was probably looking at a Ryan and Henderson selection before the Ulster man was injured, that is probably his preferred option.

However, Toner was instrumental in so much of Ireland's lineout ball and ruck clean-out that it would be hard to leave the Leinster skyscraper out.

One thing is certain - it will be a tactical battle of the coaches, with Scotland's Gregor Townsend right up there with Schmidt as a coach that likes to pick through the bones of the opposition. Both men will spend hours poring over video evidence in recent games as to where best to attack each other.

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